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Archive for October, 2009

Tuesday - October 27, 2009

“I Owe Him My Life” & “To Make an Honest Woman of Her”


Zoltán from Hungary wants to know what these two expressions mean: “to owe my life to him” and “to make an honest woman of her.”

When you owe something to someone, it means that you are indebted to them, or that you are required to give something to them in exchange for something that this person gave you.  If I borrow money from Jeff, I owe him money until I pay him back.  If I do a favor for Jeff, he owes me a future favor.

To owe your life to someone or to owe someone your life, though, means that another person was responsible for saving your life at some time.  You could say: “I owe my life to the fire fighters who ran into the burning building to rescue me.”

Sometimes we use this phrase when it’s not a matter of life and death, but is still something very serious or very important to us.  For example, if you’ve been without a job for many months and your friend helps you find a job, you may say to her, “I owe you my life!”

To make an honest woman of her is an old-fashioned phrase that we now use comically (to be funny).  To make an honest woman of someone means to marry a woman.

In the old days, the idea was that if a man was dating a woman and was having an intimate/sexual relationship with her, then she was somehow doing something wrong.  By marrying her, you would be erasing (removing) or correcting those mistakes, making her a good, honest woman again.

In the U.S., this is now an old-fashioned idea and if someone uses this expression, it is to ask when you and your girlfriend are going to get married.  Someone might say to you: “You and Pam have been going out (dating) for almost three years.  When are you going to make an honest woman of her?”

Thanks for the questions, Zoltán, and I hope this is helpful.

~ Lucy

Tuesday - October 20, 2009

Balloon Boy and Reality TV


Over the weekend, one of the major news stories was about “balloon boy,” a six-year-old boy who was believed to have gone up in a giant hot-air balloon shaped like a UFO (unidentified flying object; spaceship) that his father had built in the backyard.  The boy’s parents called the police and told them that they thought six-year-old Falcon was in the balloon.  When the balloon finally landed (came down to the ground), the boy was not on board (inside).  It turns out that Falcon was in the attic (room below the roof) the entire time.

As more and more information becomes available, this entire episode (event) may have been a hoax (fraud; deception).  When the family was interviewed on one of the many TV news shows, the boy Falcon was asked why he hadn’t come out of the attic sooner and he responded, “You guys said we did this for the show,” which seemed to signal (give the indication) that this was staged (prepared; planned).

At the same time, more information became available about his parents.  The family had been on a reality TV show called “Wife Swap,” in which the wife/mother of two very different families exchange places for a short time.  Falcon’s parents had also pitched (proposed) a reality show to one of the cable networks (set of TV stations) for a show about their wacky (unusual and funny) family, which the network had passed on (rejected).  It now appears that this may have all been a publicity stunt (action to get public attention) and the police are considering filing charges (officially saying that someone has broken the law) against these parents.

Turning children into entertainers is nothing new.  There have been child actors, performers, singers, etc., since the beginning of time.  With the rise of (increasing popularity of) reality TV shows, however, there are more and more families putting their lives in front of the camera.  A recent example is the show “Jon and Kate Plus Eight,” about a family with eight young children, whose parents in recent months have split up (separated; divorced) and have been publicly feuding (fighting; arguing).

Is this “family reality TV” trend taking place in other countries and what do you think of it?

~ Lucy

Wednesday - October 14, 2009

Nice Guys Finish Last


Jing Li from New Zealand had the following questions:
“In (the TV show) Prison Break in the first season, Michael and Sara had a conversation:

Michael: I thought you were a nice girl.
Sara: Oh Michael, we all know nice girls finish last.

I checked dictionaries and the Internet, and I could not figure out what the “finish last” means. Could you please explain the phrase’s meaning for me?”

The speaker, Sara, is referring to the popular saying:  “Nice guys finish last.”  She substituted “girls” for “guys.”  “Nice guys finish last” means that boys/men who are too timid (shy; without courage) will not get what they want.  They have to be a bit aggressive (using attack or confrontation) and courageous (brave) to beat their competitors.  The same is true for “nice girls.”

This saying is often used to talk about romantic relationships, where often the men who are aggressive get the girls.  This doesn’t mean they have to be “bad boys,” however, to attract girls.  Bad boys are those who aren’t nice and polite, and who may not be honest, trustworthy, or treat girls/women very well.  The stereotype (too simplistic image or idea) of a bad boy is someone who rides a motorcycle, has a lot of tattoos (permanent ink images on their skin), doesn’t respect authority, and gets into trouble with the law (police).  He’s the guy you don’t bring home to meet your mother.

Finishing last, of course, means being in last place in a competition and losing the race.  We use this for actual races, for example, where the winner finishes first and others finish second, third…and last; we do the same to describe the game of life.

Note that we say “bad boys” and not “bad guys” to refer to boys/men who are not considered good or polite.  “Bad guys” mean something else; it’s another term for villains, who are the people in a story who do bad things and often fight the “good guys,” or the heroes.  While bad boys can also be bad guys, these two terms don’t mean the same thing.

When people use the phrase “nice guys finish last,” they are not really speaking about men/people who are nice.  Guys who are nice–kind, polite, considerate (thinking of others)–will always finish first in my book (in my opinion).  They mean men/people who don’t go after (pursue) what they want–who don’t get up the courage to ask a girl/woman for a date, who allow others to take credit for (have ownership of) their work, who are afraid to speak up for their own views and ideas.  These are the guys who will finish last.

Thanks for the question, Jing Li, and I hope this was helpful.

~ Lucy

Tuesday - October 13, 2009

Reminder About No-Links Policy

When we started the ESL Podcast Blog over two years ago, we decided on a policy not to allow links in the comments sections.  The following is an excerpt (section) from our original post about this:

We have received some posts recently with website links (addresses). For security reasons, we prefer not to post any active links in the comment sections. The reason is that it takes extra time for us to investigate these links and make sure they are not spam or are not redirecting you to another site. (We receive a lot of spam messages on the comments section!) For that reason, we have decided not to put active links in the comments. We know this is inconvenient, but most things can be found using a simple Google search, so if you mention something you saw (such as a YouTube video or newspaper article), most people will be able to find it another way.

Since that time, we have become lax (not strict) about this policy, mainly because of the interesting things our listeners post.  However, as much as we hate to do it, we will need to ask you once again to leave out links, so that we can focus our time on producing the best podcasts we can!

Thank you for your understanding, and we appreciate your comments very, very much!

~ Jeff and Lucy

Monday - October 12, 2009

Is Columbus Day Here to Stay?

Ridolfo_Ghirlandaio_ColumbusToday we celebrate in the United States Columbus Day, remembering the day that the Italian explorer (someone who looks for “new” or undiscovered places) Christopher Columbus first “discovered” the Americas. Of course, when we say “discover,” we mean for the Europeans, since there were already millions of people living here before Columbus’s ships arrived. Although today is an official government holiday in many places, the celebration of this day has changed significantly over the past 50 years or so.

Columbus Day was created as a federal (national) holiday back in 1968, when the United States Congress passed (approved) something called the Monday Holiday Law, which established (started) Columbus Day on the second Monday of October.  (The traditional date of Columbus Day is October 12th, which this year also falls on (is on the day of) the second Monday in October.)  The same law also moved three other federal holidays — Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, and Washington’s Birthday — to a Monday. Americans decided that they wanted to have a three-day weekend (Saturday, Sunday, and Monday) more than they wanted to celebrate these holidays on the actual day of the event they commemorated (remembered, honored).

Columbus Day has been celebrated in some places for many years. New York City has had a Columbus Day parade since 1929, and will have one again this year. But in many places, the celebration of Columbus Day has been changed or eliminated, for a variety of reasons. In South Dakota, a state in the Midwest next to Minnesota, today is celebrated as Native American Day, to honor all of the Native Americans (American Indians) who were living here before the Europeans arrived. Although today is a federal holiday, where workers in many national government offices do not have to work, about half of the state governments do not give their employees today off. Here in California, Governor Schwarzenegger is eliminating Columbus Day due to budget (financial) problems that the state has, although today most city offices are closed in Los Angeles.

In some places, they have started “holiday swapping.” To swap means to change or exchange one thing for another. A city here in California, for example, voted to swap two holidays — Columbus Day and Cesar Chavez Day (a holiday here in California honoring the famous Mexican American union organizer) — for New Year’s Eve and one “floating” holiday. This means that city employees will now be able to take December 31 off as a holiday (it is not typically a holiday in the United States – only New Year’s Day is). A floating holiday is a holiday that individual employees, companies, or governments can decide when they want to take — basically, it’s another day off of work, but not in connection to any particular holiday.

Italian Americans are not too happy about these changes in the way people celebrate Columbus Day, since Columbus was Italian and they believe his accomplishments should be honored (remembered).  But even the largest city in the US named after (in the memory of) the famous explorer, Columbus, Ohio, no longer has a Columbus Day celebration parade.   If they don’t celebrate Columbus Day in Columbus, things don’t look good for the future of the holiday.


Tuesday - October 6, 2009

Black Eyed Peas and a Flash Mob

As you probably know, Oprah Winfrey has a very popular talk show on American TV called “Oprah,” and to kick off (start) the show’s 24th season, the group Black Eyed Peas perform a special live (not recorded beforehand) version of their hit (popular) song “I Gotta Feeling” in downtown Chicago.

What Oprah didn’t know was that there was a surprise for her: a flash mob.  A flash mob is a large group of people whose members know to be at a particular place, at a particular time by communicating electronically, such as through email or Twitter. It’s pretty amazing what this flash mob does!

~ Lucy

“I Gotta Feeling”
The Black Eyed Peas

(4 times)
I gotta (got a) feeling…
That today’s gonna (going to) be a good day
That today’s gonna be a good day
That today’s gonna be a good, good day

Today’s the day
Let’s live it up (spend one’s time in a very enjoyable way)
Twenty-four seasons
Let’s give it up
Look how she smash it
Like Oh My God
Jump off that sofa
Keep watching…OPRAH

I know that we’ll have a ball (have a lot of fun)
If we get down
And go out
And just lose it all (relax completely; lose control)
I feel stressed out (anxious; worried)
I won’t let it go
Let’s go way out spaced out
And loosing all control

Fill up my cup
Mazel tov (Jewish expression meaning “congratulations”)
Look at her dancing
Just take it… OFF
Let’s paint the town (go out and enjoy ourselves)
We’ll shut it down
Let’s burn the roof

(2 times)
Cause I gotta feeling… (WoooHooo)
That tonight’s gonna be a good night
That tonight’s gonna be a good night
That tonight’s gonna be a good, good night

I gotta feeling
Tonight’s the night (HEY! )
Let’s live it up (Let’s live it up)
I got my money (I’m paid)
Let’s spend it up (Let’s spend it up)
Go out and smash it (Smash it)
Like, oh my God (Like, oh my God)
Jump off that sofa (Come On! )
Let’s kick it OFF

Fill up my cup (Drank)
Mazel tov (La chaim)
Look at her dancing (Move it Move it)
Just take it… OFF
Let’s paint the town (Paint the town)
We’ll shut it down (Shut it down)
Let’s burn the roof (Woooooo)
And then we’ll do it again

Let’s do it (4 times)
And do it (2 times)
Let’s live it up
And do it (3 times)
Do it, do it
Let’s do it (3 times)
Do it, do it, do it, do it

Here we come
Here we go
We gotta rock
Easy come, easy go (something that you get easily can go away just as easily)
Now we on top
Feel the shot
Body rock
Rock it don’t stop
Round and round
Up and down
Around the clock (all the time; without stopping)

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday
Friday, Saturday, Saturday to Sunday

Get, get, get, get, get with us
You know what we say (say)
Party everyday (x2)

I gotta feeling (WooHooo)
That tonight’s gonna be a good night
That tonight’s gonna be a good night
That tonight’s gonna be a good good night

I gotta feeling (WooHooo)

Thursday - October 1, 2009


First, I want to thank everyone who wished me a happy birthday last week. I appreciate all the kind comments.  Some people asked if I was “really” 29.  The answer is yes.  I am 29 mentally, but 46 physically.   Actually, some people say I am nine mentally, but that is another story (that’s a different question or issue)!

Today’s post is called potpourri, which means a mixture of different things, sometimes used in talking about music or literature, but more generally about a set of topics that are not necessarily related to each other.  This post is a potpourri, since the paragraphs do not related to one another very well – it’s a mix of ideas.  I confess that it has been a really busy week for me, so I’m going to talk about some recent headlines in the news for today’s post, mostly for some of the difficult vocabulary that sometimes appears in newspaper headlines (story titles).  All of these are from today’s New York Times online edition.  Here goes (here we go, now we will begin):

Bernanke, in Nod to Critics, Suggests Board of Regulators

Bernanke refers to Ben Bernanke, who is head (leader) of the Federal Reserve, sort of like our national bank (or at least, it has become one in recent months).  To nod means to acknowledge someone else’s idea by agreeing to do it, even though you didn’t like the idea initially (at the beginning).  Often the verb is used to show that the person is trying to make his critics happy by doing something they suggest.  Bernanke is “nodding” to his critics by taking up one of their suggestions: That there be a board of regulators (government officials who make sure companies are following the law) for the control of US banks and financial institutions.

Fossil Skeleton From Africa Predates Lucy

Fossils are the remains of some animal or human body part that are found in rock, usually hundreds of thousands of years old.  A skeleton refers to the bones of a human or animal.  To predate means to come before.  Lucy is not our own Dr. Lucy Tse; it refers to a famous skeleton found many years ago named Lucy.  The story is that scientists have dated (determined the age of)* a skeleton that is 4.4 million years old, older than the skeleton named Lucy, which is “only” 3.2 million years old.  This new skeleton is being called Ardi (which is short for the technical name, Ardipithecus ramidus).  It is considered the oldest skeleton from the human “branch” or part of the primate family (which includes apes, monkeys, and my neighbor).

Curling Up With Hybrid Books, Videos Included

To curl up means to sit with your legs up against you for warmth or comfort, sort of like a ball.  There is an expression “to curl up into a ball” for this reason.  To curl up with a book means to sit down to read a book in a comfortable chair.  A hybrid is a mixture of two different things.  We now have hybrid cars that use both electricity and gasoline for power, for example.  Here is what this headline is all about: With the changes in technology (iPhones, Kindles, e-book readers), some publishers are now starting to include videos with the books they are releasing in electronic format (such as for the iPhone).  “Readers” will read the text and can also watch videos in some chapters of the book that are related to the story.  These “vooks” (video + book) are still very new, but many think that these multimedia (more than one media, such as sound, text, video) “vooks” will become more and more popular.

This post does not include any videos, sorry.


* = To date can also mean to go somewhere romantic with your girl/boyfriend or spouse.  Scientists did not actually go to dinner with the skeleton, however, since it appeared to be rather hungry and they didn’t want to pay for a big meal (scientists can be rather cheap (unwilling to spend money), I guess).